“I tried to keep it together. But the moment I was at her funeral and I watched her body being lowered into the ground, I felt the crushing pain. It doesn’t matter how old you are; when the pain of losing a mother hits you, you can’t stop the flood of despair that threatens to take over you.”
Your parents are the first connections you make in the world. The first relationships you have. Your first friends, your first teachers. Whether good or bad, your parents have a profound impact on who you are as a person.
It is true that the parent-child relationship is powerful, and can be very special. When you have a strong bond with one or both of your parents, it makes losing them that much more difficult.
Indeed, no matter what your age, losing your mother or father can be devastating.
How Your Mother’s Funeral Impacts You
When we talk about the loss of a parent, much of the conversation revolves around childhood loss. When you lose your parent as an adult, though, there are a unique set of challenges, and the mental and emotional toll can be just as devastating.
The death of a mother or father during adulthood is associated with a number of negative effects on mental health and physical well-being . After the loss of a parent, there is a greater likelihood that you will experience depression, binge-drinking and even weight gain.
While the loss of any parent can be difficult, there is also evidence that suggests that the loss of a father has a greater impact on a son, while the loss of a mother can be more difficult for a daughter.
In any case, by the time you have reached adulthood, you have had many more years to form a special bond with your parents, which can make it that much more devastating to lose them. Parental death is an important symbolic event for many midlife adults and can trigger a time of upheaval and transition as they adjust to life without their mother or father .
The 5 Stages of Grief
Dealing with the loss of a parent can be a long and arduous process. Typically, there are five stages to the grieving process that most adults go through after their parent dies:
- Denial: This first stage is when you deal with the disbelief that you will never get a call from your mother or go visit your father ever again. You can’t fathom the thought of never hearing their voice again, never giving them another hug. You wake up every day and have to remind yourself that they are no longer there.
This is the time when you ask yourself questions like, ‘Did it have to happen? Did it have to happen that way? Could anything have prevented it?’
- Anger: this could be anger at your parent. “Why didn’t he take better care of himself?” It could also be directed toward yourself – “Why didn’t I see this coming?” “Why didn’t I take better care of her?”
This anger could be associated with guilt, and you might find yourself asking questions like “why didn’t I spend more time with him?” “Why didn’t I tell her I loved her more often?”
While you might think this anger is unhealthy, it is actually a very important part of the grieving process, and you should allow yourself to work through these feelings.
- Bargaining: This is when you start asking the “If only…” and “What if…” questions.
This dialogue eventually transitions from the past into the future, and could take the form of asking for respite from illness in your family, or that no tragedy like this happens again.
- Depression: Eventually your attention moves to the present, and you accept the reality that your parent is gone. We are often encouraged to try to move past this phase as quickly as possible – to just “snap out of it”, but this is an important stage in grieving that helps you eventually grow stronger once you have explored those deep feelings .
- Acceptance: This is when you finally completely accept that your mother or father is gone. You will never enjoy this reality, and this new life without them will never be okay, but you learn how to cope, and continue with your life. You are now able to readjust to your new circumstances.
How to Work Through your Mother’s Funeral
The death of a parent when you are an adult is supposed to be “commonplace”, or the “natural order of things”, and is somehow supposed to be less of a loss than other people in our lives. Anyone who has been through this type of loss, of course, knows that this is simply not true.
While nothing can ever truly take the pain away after you lose your mother or father, there are some steps you can take to help yourself work through the bereavement process.
Give yourself plenty of time. Do not try to rush yourself through the grieving process. There is no timeline or deadline for how quickly you should process your emotions. Remember, pain is a reflection of great love, and grief is a reflection of how great your loss is.
Get support from others who have lost their parents. After losing your parent it can sometimes feel like you’re alone in your grief. Try to find a support group, whether in-person or online, for people who are also struggling with the loss of their parent. Their empathy can be a profound source of strength as your work through your loss .
Have a plan for the tough days. Maybe you do something to honor the memory of your mother on mother’s day, or maybe you’ll have a beer on your dad’s behalf for his birthday. Whatever it is, have a plan for how you’re going to get through those emotionally-charged days .
Find ways to keep their memory alive. Look through old photos, watch old family videos, even keep a few items that were precious to them. These are all ways you can hold your mom or dad in your heart and still feel like they have a presence in your life.
Don’t berate yourself for feeling better. Eventually, the pain and the weight of grief will get a little lighter. You may feel guilty or angry with yourself for feeling happier even though your parent is still gone. You will never fully get over the loss of your parents, but one thing is for sure: you will laugh again, celebrate more holidays and birthdays, and enjoy life again, but you will never forget your mother or father and the beautiful relationship you had with them.
- ‘Death of Parents and Adult Psychological and Physical Well-Being: A Prospective U.S. National Study’ Pubmed
- ‘Patterns of Change following Parent Death in Midlife Adults’ Sage Journals Joan Delahanty Douglas. Published March 1, 1991.